The Day of the Dead

Dancing away the dark

Today is Dio de los Muertos, the holiday celebrated in Mexico to honor the dead. Although I’ve never celebrated it before, I will do so today as I cook and prepare for the Nomad Chef: Day of the Dead dinner that I am hosting tomorrow. This holiday now has special meaning for me. My son, the original Nomad Chef, died just over two years ago, and I am thinking of him today. The wound is as fresh as if it were yesterday and yet I feel his presence and his arms around me when I cook. I am still using many of the spices he left behind and feel his soul, the spice of my life, when I smell coriander, cardamon, ginger or any of the hundreds of spices that fill my cupboards.

We both grew up in California; and my son was born there in my adopted home. I was 19 years old when he entered my life. I don’t have any adult memories without him until now, the two years since he left on a grander voyage than either of us could have imagined. We grew up together. We moved countries together. We cooked together. Once we were nomads and cooking warriors but now there is only me.

In California Mexican food is the equivalent of fish and chips in the UK, although much more diverse. Instead of sandwiches, we Californians eat quesadillas (grilled flour tortillas with cheese, avocados, salsa and many other combination) as a snack at home when we don’t have time to prepare a whole meal. When running out from the office for a quick lunch we pick up burritos sold off the backs of trucks in almost any urban neighborhood. Not all Mexican food is either quick or easy. Each year my son and I would spend a day making Oaxacan mole sauce – it takes an entire day to create the delicious layers of sophisticated flavors in this sauce that can be served on meat (or in my case tofu). Our mom and son activities all revolved around food.

Also inked to the Aztec festival is the Braziilan Dia de Finados. My son loved Brazil. He went there with his friends who were producing, filming and recording Giant Leap. He wrote beautiful essays while he was there. I have them all, and many others;  they make up part of his legacy. In Spain they have similar festivals for the Catholic All Saints and All Souls days. My son spent one of the best years in his life living in Deia (Mallorca, Spain) where he was the chef and creator of a lovely fusion menu in this tiny little village filled with a mix of English and Mallorquin speakers. My nomad son fit so much into his short life as actor, writer and chef.

So today and tomorrow I will think of my son and all that we did together and all that he left behind. In opening the Nomad Chef I have opened a channel to my son, through which I’ve had the great fortune to meet the most wonderful strangers. One lovely Italian woman who came to eat here a few months ago (when I served the last of the mole sauce my son and I made together the year before) sent me the most beautiful note today and a quote from Sant’Agostino:

“The dead are not absent, they are the invisible who keep their eyes full of light, in our eyes full of tears.”

Yes, my eyes are full of tears thinking of my invisible son. But his light is ever present here at the Nomad Chef and for that I am grateful. Tomorrow we will drink, eat and dance to those who have left us behind.

2 thoughts on “The Day of the Dead

  1. manuela

    Hi, Shelley-I’ve been reading some of your posts. They are very beautiful. I salute you for carrying on with the Nomad Chef. I keep on trying to think of anything that would help me to get thru this. I pray that my son will come to me in my dreams and tell me exactly what i need to do to in order to keep on living. Until then thank you for your words! manuela

  2. Deborah Huisken

    Hi, Shelley –

    Lovely – how much fun you and your son had together.

    And, the quote from your Italian woman reminds me of a beautiful book that gave me a lot of comfort after my sister’s death. It’s called _Emmanuel’s Book_, and he speaks of death feeling like taking off a too-tight shoe. He says many other things about death that were very comforting – I’ve recommended it to a lot of my friends who’ve had a close loved one die. You can find it on my website in the Books section, or I’m sure it’s available on Amazon, etc.

    It’s a great tribute that you’ve named The Nomad Chef for your son – truly makes it a labor of love and tribute for you.

    sent with a hug,


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